Pander Code

By Maeve Maddox

A word that jumps incessantly out of newspapers, magazines, and the mouths of political pundits these days is some form of pander.

It’s especially popular as a headline word:

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist pandering to get vice presidential nod

Speech doesn’t pander; does it explain?

Pander and Run

POLL-VERIZED ELIOT SHIFTS INTO PANDER GEAR

How Can Hillary Out-Pander Obama?

John McCain, Pander Bear

So where did this word come from and what does it mean?

To begin with, pander was another word for pimp.

Pandare was a character in a poem about the Trojan War written by Italian Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375). English poet Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400) used the character in his long poem Troilus and Criseyde. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) used the character in his play Troilus and Cressida.

Pandare was a pimp. In all the stories he is responsible for hooking Creseyde (Cressida) up with another lover after she has sworn to be faithful forever to Troilus.

Pandare evolved into the eponym pander with the meaning of “arranger of sexual liaisons, one who supplies another with the means of gratifying lust, procurer, pimp.”

The verb meaning “to indulge, to minister to base passions” is first recorded in 1602. Presumably this is the meaning with which the word is used in all these political references.

Originally, the noun pander was sufficient as the word for one who did such things:

Fie, sir! Will you be your own daughter’s pander?!

Now, however, because the form of the verb is pander, American speakers have added the agent suffix -er to create the noun panderer.

Here are some recent uses of this family of words:

All politicians pander, and some are much better at it than others. Obama is particularly good at pandering, in part because he’s skilled enough to not look obvious while doing it, but also because he does a very deft job of mixing in some uncomfortable truths (albeit with a very soft edge) to different groups while in the process of telling them things they want to hear. —Real Clear Politics

Many politicians pander, as Edwards does with gusto, to Americans’ current penchant for self-pity. Hence the incessant talk about “the forgotten middle class.” Because such talk is incessant, it of course refutes itself. –George Will

When politicians pander by creating artificial markets — and then use financial incentives such as tax breaks to turn their exquisite wisdom into self-fulfilling prophecy — risk is buried under a pile of manure. —Pittsburgh-Tribune Review

In his show of May 5, 2008, Jon Stewart mocks candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for shamelessly pandering to North Carolina and Indiana voters before the primaries. Playing on the story of Pandora’s Box, the accompanying graphics label the segment Panderer’s Box. Obama’s pandering takes the form of playing impromptu basketball in his shirtsleeves, while Clinton associates herself with NASCAR and falls into a southern regional accent.

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1 Response to “Pander Code”

  • Stephen Thorn

    Many readers here are probably too young to remember that the law against “pimping” prostitutes to johns used to be called “pandering.”

    It seems to me that the focus of this word has shifted from the acted-upon to the actor. No longer is the panderer a person who arranges sexual liaisons for pay, but is instead prostituting him/herself for gain. Of course, in the instance of many politicians (truly the foulest of whores) that is highly appropriate.

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